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"The Typical American Town"
by [?]


It is worth a man’s life in Chicago to state his unbiased opinion of Chicago. The city is filled with dirt and vanity. Its population is the most complex in the world. It has more than 300,000 people who do not speak, read or write the English language. In certain of its west side districts a sound of the mother tongue is not heard from year’s end to year’s end. The number of bodies within its limits closely approximates 1,500,000. It will be noticed that I do not say “souls.” Not a daily paper published in the city has a bonafide circulation of 100,000 copies, which is, in itself, a striking commentary upon the character of the people who live in the largest town of Cook county. A circulation of that size is not thought to be a thing to be bragged about in New York. In Chicago, its attainment is the ambition and heart’s desire of every newspaper publisher in the town.

A traveling man who was not from St. Louis, once summarized Chicago as “a big, dirty, noisy roaring bluff.” He was a fellow who had a just appreciation of the value of adjectives. That is what it is. It is said of the merchants that in the summer time they load wagons with empty barrels and drive them about the streets to simulate business. I don’t doubt it. If they haven’t done it, they forgot it. There is no shady trick of commercial competition that they will not stoop to, nothing short of a penitentiary offense that they will balk at. Sometimes they do not stop there.

Chicago has been called “the representative American city.” It is. It represents the America of to-day, because more than any other municipality, its life is wrapped in the pursuit of the dollar. A man in Chicago is weighed by dollars. The attractions of his wife and daughters are judged by dollars. His value as a citizen, his worthiness as an American, his fitness for public service, his chances of heaven are measured by the standard of the dollar.

There is a merchant prince in Chicago whose private life contains a scandal that is absolutely unprintable. He is looked up to by men and admired by women. His name is often upon the lips of the good, although I cannot learn that he gives freely to charity, or to the city’s advancement. He is held up as a model for young men struggling in the race of life. He is pointed out to girls as an epitome of brainy American manhood. It cost him $500,000 to hush up this scandal, or rather to keep it out of print. It is known to thousands of course, because a matter of this kind can no more be stilled than the winds and the waves can be stilled. But the dollars did the work they were designed to do. Not a paper of the newspaper trust contained a line in reference to it. The man advertises, you see.

There is another man high in Chicago financial circles. Men tip their hats to him on the streets. His name appears on the prospectuses and in the lists of directors in many powerful institutions. He is a prominent figure at many social functions. His hair is white with age, but he still has a lust for tender maidenhood. This man has served a term in the penitentiary for stealing from his government. As a result of that theft he has many dollars.

When a man hears of Chicago he is pretty apt to hear of Yerkes. Yerkes owns all of the north side street railways and is a dictator in a dozen enormous enterprises. It is the fashion to regard Yerkes as an octopus who has Chicago grasped in his strangling arms. It is the custom to hurl abuse at Yerkes and hold Yerkes responsible for all the many ills of the city. In the popular mind Yerkes is the Chicago exemplar of the grasping, soulless, blood-sucking monopolist. This is because the newspaper trust does not like Yerkes. He began fighting it a long time ago, holding war to be cheaper than tribute. Up to date Yerkes has a long way the best of the contest. He has a thick skin. Abuse glides off him like water off an oiled board. Yerkes, too, is a jail bird. He has served, it is said, a term in a Pennsylvania penitentiary. Yerkes went to the penitentiary, it is further said, because he would not betray his fellow robbers. He took his punishment, but he kept his mouth shut. In other words, he “did not peach on his pals.” It will be seen that there is a good deal of a man in Yerkes–much more, in fact than is to be found in any one of his newspaper publishing traducers; but even his fondest intimates have never denied that he is a rascal.